Wednesday, 29 October 2014

20 Unbelievable Bookstores Around The World You Must Visit

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.’
So what if you’re already travelling, does that mean you should get another book? Undoubtedly, like many, I know of the world by flipping through books and seeing it from the eyes of others. Have you ever thought that the h(e)aven for all your books could actually be a world on its own?
Despite the indispensability of the internet and E books, every reader would love a good old fashioned print media. Those dog eared books passed down from generations ago, awkward yet addictive smelling scent, and crumbly, yellow pages that are threatening to fall off the bind. 
These 20 bookshops around the world will expose you to a whole new hideout of myths, minimalism, culture, and even extravagance at no cost.
Atlantis Books, Santorini, Greece
The quirky designs of the quotations on the walls and doors will draw you into a magical cave of impressive selection of books in many different languages. Located in the basement of one of Santorini’s white houses is a renowned bookstore founded in 2004 by a group of international travelling buddies. It’s a whole new world of sheer delight for lovers of the written word.
Honesty Bookshop, Hay on Wye, Wales
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This county is a biblioholic paradise. A page of heaven on Earth, every winding lane lies a unique bookstore. Imagine a fire station turned into a bookstore, or cinema. How about a castle with million books everywhere? (Picture above) Be sure not to miss their annual literary festival!
Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy
Feel yourself floating in euphoria, maybe literally as there are occasional flooding from the canal, when you enter this shop with a huge selection of new and used books in special shelvings such as boats, canoes, and gondolas. Right smack in the middle of the shop is a gondola filled with books!
Climb up the stairs made from books that will lead to the back of the bookstore that overlooks the canal.
Happy Valley, Melbourne, Australia
Benching itself on practicality and affordability, Happy Valley is not exactly a bookstore but a gallery space of designs, books, and art. It is stocked with Australian designs that you may not find anywhere else.
Another Country, Berlin, Germany
Messy and unpredictable, just like the book choice of every reader, Another Country is an English language second hand bookshop that propagates British culture - English film club, TV nights, and dinner nights. Works like a library too, when you return the purchased book, you’ll only get charged a loan fee of £1.50.
Sappho Book, Cafe and Wine Bar, Sydney, Australia
Home not only to many out-of-print and impossible-to-find books, but also a wide range of art, literature, history, politics, religion, philosophy, foreign language, and modern & contemporary fiction.
At the rear of the bookshop is Sydney’s popular Sappho’s wine & tapas bar. As if the place suffers from schizophrenia, it loosens up to a perfect leisure place to hangout with cocktails of literary names and live bands at night.
Word on water, London, England
London’s only floating secondhand bookstore that floats your boat. It travels between Camden Lock, Angel, Hackney, and Paddington; stopping two weeks at each. Don’t miss the random live music shows and poetry readings.
Librarie Avant Garde, Nanjing, China
Right beside Nanjing University is a 3780 square-meter underground space beneath Wutaishan Stadium, previously a bomb shelter, then government carpark. This well known independent bookstore, another world hidden from the bustling of the city of Nanjing, has inevitably become a second library for the students.
Boek Handel Selexyz Dominicanen, Maastricht, Netherlands
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This 700 years old original Dominican Church is easily hailed as the world’s most beautiful bookstore, if not architectures. Thankfully it was abandoned and neglected during the 1794 invasion. Apart from the cross shaped table in the choir cafe, the 3 storey high bookshelves inserted with stairs and escalator is its centrepiece.
Livraria Lello & Irmao, Porto, Portugal
Donned in marvelous stairway and intricately carved wooden walls, this is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal. Sheltering more than 60,000 books, it is rumoured to be J.K Rowlings’ inspiration for her Harry Potter’s series when she lived in Porto.
Cook & Book, Brussels, Belgium
Pick your favourite food, with an added pleasure of food and enter a room full of books; each with different theme. Cook and Book not only caters to the visual lovers but those with audio inclinations with a music corner.
Plural Bookstore, Bratislava, Slovakia
This former knit factory morphed into a bookstore contains a flexible space that not only sell books but facilitate various events - readings, minor concerts, workshops, etc. Truly a paradise for minimalistic architecture admirers.
Candide Books and Cafe, Bangkok, Thailand
Despite the shift from Phra Nakon to Thonburi, Candide retains its coffeeshop-bookstore concept. Upgrading their cafe menu, they now offer a classic selection of tasty coffee. This warm and homely bookstore is the brainchild of writer, editor and publisher Duangruethai Esanasatang.
El Ateneo, Buenes Aires, Argentina
The stunning building looks the same as it was first erected in May 1919 as Teatro Gran Splendid built for the empresario Max Glucksman. It retains the original frescoed ceilings, elaborate theatre boxes designed by architects Pero and Torres Armengol.
The Bookworm, Beijing, China
A cross between bookstore, library, bar, restaurant and event space, though not unheard of, Bookworm is a bibliophile’s’ paradise in Beijing since its opening in 2000. With a rooftop terrace to relax with a glass of your favourite wine, or occasional wine tasting sessions and movie screenings.
Kay Craddock Antiquarian Booksellers, Melbourne, Australia
An oasis of civilisation dating back to 15th century, Kay Craddock holds a handsome collection of antiquarian and secondhand books, and its crowned as one of the best bookstores in the literary heart of Collins Street, Melbourne.
Millpoint Cafe, Perth, Australia
This purple block has compact all of Earth’s virtues - soul food, gourmet coffee, and carefully selected adults and children’s books - a home away from home. And who doesn’t love a bookstore with lovely and knowledgeable owners?
El Pendulo, Meixico City, Mexico
Live musical for Sunday brunch. Books-lined walls. Greeneries. Enough said.
Baldwin’s Book Barn, West Chester, USA
1822 old, 5 storeys barn was converted into a bookstore 80 years ago. It’s every wizards-wannabe dream to be in a room with cats and well organised books on wooden tiles and shelves.
Bart’s Books, California, USA
The range and quantity of books speaks of Owner Bart’s passion for books and sharing. He started selling books from his house, but his house is nowhere to be seen now! His house is inside the bookstore now, the largest independently owned and operated open-air bookstore in the country. Bart’s Books operates on an honourary system; when it’s closed, customers can still buy books from the shelves mounted outside.
Brattle Bookshop, Boston, USA
The Brattle Book Shop carries an impressive stock of over 250,000 books, maps, prints, and postcards in its majestic 3 storey building in the heart of Downtown Boston. Filled with thousands of rare and exceptional works, this is one of the largest antiquarian bookstores in USA.
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Tuesday, 28 October 2014

10 idyllic weekend beach getaways in Southeast Asia

Singaporeans are internationally-known workaholics for our notorious (lack-of) work-life balance. It is almost impossible to shed that label with the endless, piling work, but that does not mean you cannot get away momentarily and have fun during the weekends.
Do you feel that inertia when you think of mushroom-infested Bali, party crowd at Phuket or sudden influx of travellers at Boracay, and just want to escape all these chaotic human traffic altogether? Here’s a list of beach weekends getaways from Singapore:
Rawa Island, Malaysia
Just a short boat ride from mainland Mersing, you’ll be enthralled by the beauty of Rawa Island. Rawa is a private island owned by the family of the Sultanate of Johor; perfect for a rejuvenating getaway. Clean beaches filled with nothing but powdery, white sand; occasionally enveloped by the inviting blue waters.
With its abundant marine life, this is one of the best places in Malaysia to snorkel through clown fishes, sea urchins, and giant clams. For those who are craving for a more adventurous yet romantic activity, canoe around Rawa Island and discover the cliffs and caves on its eastern coast.
Sabah Islands, Malaysia
Though Borneo is more famously known for its dense rainforest, wildlife sanctuaries and Kota Kinnabalu, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, it is endowed with an array of wondrous islands off its eastern and western coastlines.
This protected stretch of water between the Philippines and Malaysia is a paradise for divers. With the flourishing coral reefs and marine life, 3000 species of fishes can be spotted - leopard sharks, marbled stingrays, giant groupers, tuna, whale sharks, just to name a few.
These are a few islands, each with its own character, that you might want to consider: Kapalai Island, Sipidan, Mataking, Mabul, and Lankayan.
Koh Tao, Thailand
With a turtle-silhouetted mountain, Koh Tao is also known as Turtle Island. Well, also the fact that green turtles can be spotted during dives.
Koh Tao that retains tranquility, serves as an ideal place to escape the forever-drunken crowd or nurse your hangover from too much partying in sister islands, Koh Samui and Koh Phangan. Koh Tao is blessed with hilly landscapes where you can hike up to different viewpoints and be mesmerised by the natural phenomenon of the sky and sea conjoining into one, as you squint against the setting sun.
Just like the ambience of the island, the waves are milder and the waters calmer; it is the most popular spot in Thailand to learn diving. Also, zigzag-walking patterned drunkens will be less of a common sight when you hunt for fresh seafood and small bites further inland. This island is suitable for all, offering both budget guesthouses and luxurious hotels.
China Beach, Vietnam
Expecting a name you can barely pronounce? Well, China Beach was named by American and Australian troops who visited during the Vietnam War for their R&R.
This area has more historical stories than it being a surfing paradise of Da Nang. What’s not to love when it is just a 10 minutes bus ride from Hoi An and 25 minutes from the International Airport? So accessible yet retaining its composure of secludedness.
Phu Quoc, Vietnam
Phu Quoc is the largest stand alone island of Vietnam. However, fret not about accessibility. Since 2012, there is an International Airport standing, or simply catch a 50 minutes flight from the honking and bargaining madness of Ho Chi Minh City.
Expect to be spoilt for choices between the National Parks and its protected marine environment. Have I mentioned the hypnotising power of the swaying palm trees? At Phu Quoc, you will finally understand the true meaning of zen even as you lay bare backed and get mercilessly sun kissed.
Coron Island, the Philippines
Due to the several Japanese shipwrecks during World War 2, Coron Island is eminent as a dive spot for its stupefying underwater war relics.
Rocky terrains pocketed with lakes and a mere 5% of flat land, Coron Island is rather inaccessible compared to over-populated Boracay. However, its breathtaking landscape of limestone cliffs, pristine white beaches, emerald coloured lagoons, and unpolluted lakes (Lake Kayangan and Lake Barracuda, with the former crowned as the cleanest lake in the Philippines for 3 consecutive years) will lure you through its inaccessibility.
Pagudpud Ilcos Norte, the Philippines
As you worry about when the next ripen coconut will fall, you’ll be distracted by the effortless blending of sapphire-blue waters from the deeper end with the turquoise-green salted waters that are threatening to drench your tanning-creamed legs.
Tucked in the northernmost settlement on Luzon island, Pagudpud makes a destination for road tripping as well. Think: Tallest lighthouse in the country, Cape Bojeador Lighthouse in Burgos. Heritage activities such as understanding the different ethnic groups at Museum De Laoag, visiting Batac, Sinking Bell Tower, and St William’s Cathedral.
Togean Island, Indonesia
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A successful beach holiday would be one that stays dry and sunny throughout. Due to its proximity to the equator, you can expect a sweltering getaway at Togean Island! Hidden along the archipelago of 56 islands and islets, Togean Island remains an undiscovered gem where magic and romance will happen.
Aquaphobias, you don’t have to worry about spending your entire weekend on a hammock with your favourite book as your friends experience this world-class diving spot. You can trek at nearby active volcano, Una Una, or explore the villages of the different ethnic groups. Not only is Togean Island suitable for the travellers with different interests, it is also made for those with varying budgets. Accommodations range from communal hostels to private villas.
Nihiwatu @ Sumba Island, Indonesia
A continental fragment that broke off from either Africa or Australia has become part of Indonesia’s many islands since. Twice the size of overly-heard-of Bali, Sumba Island is only ⅙ its population.
This is an unspoiled region that promises an exclusive retreat with the utmost privacy. Facing the majestic Indian Ocean, forget about time and have a real connection with Mother Nature that you longed. Experience inner peace when you detach from the hustle and bustle of city life, especially if you check in with Nihiwatu. The hotel restricts number of visitors to 10 at a time.
This island is surrounded by rice terraces and tropical forests, home to 7 species of fauna found nowhere else in the world.
Song Saa Villas, Cambodia
Saving the best for the last, Song Saa Private Island in undisturbed Koh Rong Archipelago.
Like the Khmer translation, ‘The Sweetheart’, Song Saa will capture your heart, and make you fall in love boundlessly and senselessly. The lack of paved roads and cash machines will be compensated with its Au-Naturel beauty. As the sun fades into darkness, the stars will regain its majestic reign in the night sky and light planktons in the pitch black waters. You once again restore faith in darkness. You are in a fantasy land.
The good news is, this place actually exists. A mere 30 minutes boat ride from Sihanoukville and you’ll be here at an eco-conscious beach out of a fairytale book. 11 jungle villas, 5 beach villas, and 9 over-water villas, take your pick!

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Friday, 24 October 2014

How to budget-travel across Southeast Asia on less than $50 a day

Cycle through the ancient structures of Angkor Complex, swing into the jade-green chill waters at Kwangsi Waterfalls, or get your skin caressed by the majestic sun as you lay on South Thailand’s beaches; travellers flock to this well-worn backpackers’ circuit, Southeast Asia, each year. Undoubtedly, the lower cost of living is one of the main reasons you have big haversacks in your face when travelling to popular destinations such as Phnom Penh,PhuketHo Chi Minh City, or Yangon.
Last winter, I jumped on the ‘cheap and independent travel’ bandwagon and bought myself a one-way ticket with a meagre S$1000 in my emaciated bank; after packing my obnoxious backpack that needed a lot of getting used to.
Though I came back 2 inches off my waist, many friends and like-minded travellers have been asking me how I spent 7 weeks on the road with less than S$1000. Here’s how:
1. Opt for midnight transportation to save on accommodation
Southeast Asia has an extensive overland travel system; bus and rail. With the sleeper buses and sleeping cabins on the trains, fret not about waking up with a chronic backache.
Furthermore, you won’t spend the supposed time meant for city-exploration in the day staring out of trains’ windows. What’s more? Accommodation for the night is sorted.
2. Overland transportations > Air travel
An add-on to the aforementioned, overland travels in Southeast Asia is relatively safe – even for solo female travellers – and a more affordable alternative compared to air travel if you’re planning to linger in this region for a long period of time. You have the choice of dropping off at any station before reaching your pre-planned destination.
Another cost-saving advantage of overland travels is that bus terminals and train stations are usually located in the central area of the city compared to the airport. You can save on taxis or airport buses when getting to your accommodation.
3. Pack dry food for long journeys
Not only will these help you cut costs, they will be your life saviour. During long overland travels such as 28 hours bus ride from Luang Prabang to Hanoi City, I ran out of local currencies and could not dine at stopovers, let alone afford those rip-off snacks from the aunties’ hand carried baskets.
4. Couchsurf as much as possible
Who says budget travelling would be a breeze by just saving on your massive lootings at night markets and taking cheaper, budget airlines? You’ll have to start doing work the minute you purchase your plane tickets.
Once you have a brief idea on the dates around the region, start sending requests on Couchsurfing to look for Couch Hosts! Do note that some hosts will only take in members with positive reviews; this means you’ll need some time in your local community by hosting others or bringing tourists around.
Couchsurfing is non-profit organisation for travellers to ‘surf on couches’ in a new city. Not only is this a brilliant way to save costs on accommodations, you experience cultural exchange! If you have time with your hosts, you can even get tips on how to travel the city and what to avoid.
5. Don’t pick what you eat
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At the start of my backpacking trip, I had to spend double during meals because I hated those bean sprouts and raw vegetables that filled half the bowl, and I was always hungry. Think: Vietnamese Phở. After the first week, I’ve learned to stop picking at my food and I had my fill from finishing the ingredients I once disliked. After all, loving one’s food is part of understanding the culture.
If you have no dietary restrictions, go for the cheaper alternatives.
6. Set a budget every morning
After planning on the places you are going to visit, set aside money for respective transportations, entrance fees, necessities, and expenses. Trust me when I say the markets in Southeast Asia are infinite mazes. I found myself going in awe at the different products, ranging from intricate paintings to hand-sewn accessories to must-have elephant pants, and was tempted to bag them all home. While you should and can still enjoy despite travelling on a low budget, setting an expenditure ceiling every morning will increase your awareness in spending and prevent exceeding.
Given the exquisity of the goods and its relatively lower cost, you will find your wallet emptying out at an increasing pace if you don’t set yourself a budget everyday.
7. Know the different routes and local names to your destinations
Most tourists see Southeast Asia as the paradise for taking Tuk Tuks or motorbike taxis at a negligible price. However, bear in mind that some of these tourist attractions are within walking distances or have shuttle buses to them.
When you have Wifi, or a map, note down the different possible routes and local names to your destinations. Save on Tuk Tuks and walk if possible. Also, knowing the local names to your destinations will save you the possibility of getting lost and the hassle of backtracking.
8. Avoid national and public holidays
Don’t have to be an economist to know the price relationship with demand and supply. Avoid cities during their public holidays, as prices of accommodations and transportations will multiple by folds and may sell out.
If the public holiday is your purpose of visit, make sure you reach the place before the actual day to avoid disappointment.

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